Dozens of artists and thousands of fans will come together at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on April 29-30 to wish country music icon Willie Nelson a very happy birthday.
The “On the Road Again” singer-songwriter, musician and political activist turns 90 on Saturday, April 29 and several of his famous friends and longtime collaborators will be performing alongside him during a special concert to mark the occasion.
“He certainly seems to be having a moment this year,” said Bill Silva, promoter of Live Nation Hewitt Silva, during a recent phone interview. “If you just look at this year, he won two Grammy awards and has a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination. It really feels like the year of Willie and it just happens to coincide with this 90th.”
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“(This) is one of the best lineups we have ever put together for one show,” Silva’s booking partner Andrew Hewitt added.
Nelson did pick up two Grammy awards in February in the best country album category for “A Beautiful Time” and the best country solo performance award for his cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Live Forever” off of the album, “Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver.” He’s also a 2023 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee alongside Kate Bush, Missy Elliot, Joy Division/New Order, George Michael, Rage Against the Machine and several others.
The cherry on his year, or atop his birthday cake, is this massive two-day celebration dubbed Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90, which is scheduled to included appearances by Alisson Russell, Beck, Billy Strings, Bobby Weir, Booker T. Jones, Buddy Cannon, Charley Crockett, Chris Stapleton, Daniel Lanois, Dave Matthews, Dwight Yoakam, Edie Brickell, Emmylou Harris, Gary Clark Jr., George Strait, Jack Johnson, Jamey Johnson, Kris Kristofferson, Leon Bridges, Lyle Lovett, Margo Price, Miranda Lambert, Nathaniel Rateliff, Neil Young, Norah Jones, Orville Peck, Particle Kid, Rosanne Cash, The Lumineers, Sheryl Crow, Shooter Jennings, Snoop Dogg, Stephen Stills, Sturgill Simpson, The Avett Brothers, The Chicks, Tom Jones, Tyler Childers, Warren Hayes, Waylon Payne, Ziggy Marely, Nelson’s sons, Lukas and Micah Nelson, and several more special guests.
“I mean, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing,” said Brian Smith, Live Nation California senior vice president of booking, during an interview. “Willie is an American icon not only for his music, but he’s just done so much for us culturally. To be able to put together his 90th birthday and celebrate with him like this at The Bowl is breathtaking. I’m excited to see it.”
Silva can’t pick out which artists and collaborations he’s the most interested in seeing. Without revealing any set list secrets, he added “I think there’s just going to be so many special moments created in this, so I hope I get to see the full show.”
It’s a diverse lineup — with hip-hop, indie rock, folk, country, R&B, pop, reggae, jazz and blues artists all on one bill. There was an entire team, including Silva, Hewitt and Smith, along with Nelson’s longtime manager Mark Rothbaum, that came up with a list of artists to perform at the birthday bash. All of the acts that were available and not already booked for a tour, responded “yes” immediately to this exclusive invite.
“We really wanted to celebrate the diversity of all of the different music Willie has created in his career — he did that reggae album with Ziggy (Marley) and ‘Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die’ with Snoop Dogg,” Silva said.
The artists on the lineup were tapped because they’ve either covered a Nelson song in the past, he’s covered one of their songs or they’ve collaborated together live on stage or in the recording studio.
Nelson and Neil Young are longtime friends, having performed at the annual Farm Aid music festival together, playing songs like “Heart of Gold” and “Four Strong Winds.”
Masked alternative country singer Orville Peck has covered Nelson’s “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond Of Each Other” and Sturgill Simpson teamed up with Nelson for the song “Juanita” on Simpson’s 2021 album “The Ballad of Dood and Juanita.” Chris Stapleton, who is also the Sunday headliner at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival out in Indio this weekend, has performed the cover “Always on My Mind” with Nelson several times.
Tom Jones’ song “Opportunity to Cry” was written by Nelson and Lyle Lovett wrote the song “Farther Down the Line,” which Nelson has covered. Norah Jones and Nelson have played and recorded several jazz songs together and bluegrass artist Billy Strings has covered Nelson’s “Hands on the Wheel” and joined him on stage during the Outlaw Music Festival tour.
In his nearly 70-year-career Nelson has recorded and released more than 100 studio, live and compilation albums.
“He’s never quit putting out music,” Silva said. “There was one decade where he put out about two albums a year; in the ’80s he put out 23 albums. His album output has been so consistent that it gives him the ability to continue to connect with younger artists and connecting with different audiences. We’re now seeing generations of fans and artists influenced by his music. Willie’s art and the songs have been cherished for so many generations. How many times to we get to celebrate an artist still performing at 90 years old, still on tour and still singing with that voice.”
Siliva has worked with Nelson for a long time, first booking him at the San Diego Sports Arena when he was just starting out as a promoter back in January 1982. The idea to celebrate Nelson’s 90th at the Hollywood Bowl, a venue Silva and Hewitt have booked outside the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s scheduled season since 1991, came when Silva was thumbing through Nelson’s autobiography a few years ago.
“I realized he was 88 at the time and about to be 89, so the 90th was right around the corner,” he said. He reached out to Rothbaum and the plotting began. “We convinced him that he deserved a moment on the Hollywood Bowl stage to really highlight the iconography of his career because it’s not solely based in country and western music.”
“This is a guy who touches everything from Patsy Cline to Snoop Dogg,” Smith added. “Who else has that breadth?”
Additional acts may be announced in the days leading up to the event, but others will be kept under wraps to surprise those attending these unique concert dates.
“There are so many special things happening here,” Smith said. “The event itself is special, but there are so many acts performing that haven’t even been announced yet, so I think that will tickle the audience when they find out. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff going on and I think that it will be a day of celebration and surprises.”
Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, April 29; 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 30
Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles
Tickets: Two-day tickets start at $325 at Ticketmaster.com.